Sally Phuong took a four-week sabbatical from her job as an account executive at Sun Life Financial Inc. last year so she could participate in a professional floral design program at the Canadian Institute of Floral Design in Toronto.
Phuong, 37, plans to retire at 55 from Sun Life and open her own floral store. In the meantime, she’s looking to hone her skills on evenings and weekends with a part-time job in the business. “It worked out really nicely that I was able to take a break from work knowing that my job was there and that I could return to it refreshed and bring back any skill set that I learned.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, more employers are looking to beef up their benefits packages by adding sabbaticals into the mix.
A survey last July by recruiting firm Robert Half Canada Inc. found 38 per cent of Canadian human resources managers indicated they plan to offer a leave of absence or sabbatical as a benefit in 2022. The result compared with a report in August 2020 that said 30 per cent of Canadian HR managers said they would offer this kind of benefit in 2021.
At the onset of the pandemic, many organizations restructured and laid off employees. The remaining staff were left with higher workloads, which has contributed to the widespread cases of burnout that we’re seeing, says Mike Shekhtman, regional director of Robert Half Canada.
It’s also been a challenge for many individuals working from home to unplug, he adds.
With many employees now looking for a substantial break, sabbaticals provide a chance to recharge beyond the traditional two- or three-week vacation, he says.
Terry Hatherell, managing partner and partner of alumni experience at Deloitte Canada, says there’s a strong case for sabbaticals because they help with talent attraction and retention. Sabbaticals can also prevent future health and well-being issues, which might result in a disability leave or leave of absence.
He says there’s a higher success rate when employers work with employees to link a sabbatical to core values and enhancing a sense of purpose. He considers three-month sabbaticals as short-term sabbaticals and said breaks of this length with a defined purpose are seen as very attractive for generation Z and generation Y employees.
For employers open to sabbaticals, it’s important they communicate to employees that they’re an option, so people don’t end up resigning with the assumption that their personal pursuits won’t be supported, says Shekhtman.
Likewise, employees curious about sabbaticals should speak to their managers to see if they’re an option and explain why they would beneficial and what they want to do during that time, he adds.
In terms of the etiquette around asking, Shekhtman recommends workers wait until they’ve put in a couple of years worth of service to show they have a proven track record with the organization.”I think it’s something that is earned over time.”
In Phuong’s case, she describes her sabbatical experience as a win-win for both her and Sun Life. It was a chance to refresh and pursue her personal goals, while also bringing value to her current role. “With floral school, you’re learning about the business aspect of it and the art of negotiating and that definitely ties into my current role.”